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Loosen Up and Handle Joint Stiffness

joint stiffness

By Devin Wurman, DPT

Joint stiffness is a pretty broad issue but it affects a lot of people in a variety of ways. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What causes joint stiffness?
  2. How does joint stiffness impact daily activities?
  3. How can physical therapy can help relieve joint stiffness?

So what constitutes joint stiffness and why does it occur? Joint stiffness is a broad lack of flexibility in a joint. It makes it difficult to move through any kind of motion smoothly. You may feel tight and achy in your joints.

Stiffness in your joints can also be the result of other conditions like arthritis for example. Arthritis occurs when there is a decrease in the space between the joints or a thinning of the cartilage around a bone. It could be a decreased height of a meniscus, it could be decreased disc space in your spine, it could also be degeneration of your labrum of your hip or shoulder. So when there’s decreased joint space, and there’s not any of that cushioning, the bones get closer together, they may rub and that may also cause some stiffness.

How does joint stiffness present itself? One of the biggest complaints we’ll hear from patients dealing with joint stiffness is that they have trouble going up or down stairs. They might need to use a handrail more than usual because they just feel like it’s so hard to bring that leg up or to bring it down because it’s not moving as smoothly. Getting up and out of a chair is another daily activity that is made more difficult by joint stiffness. Moving after being in a position for a really long period of time is another thing that’s tougher to do when someone has joint stiffness because there’s less fluid movement in the joint. It’s important to note when your joint stiffness is occurring and for how long. Is your stiffness primarily something that happens in the morning when you get up and then it goes away after 10 to 15 minutes as you start moving more? It’s also important to note where the stiffness is occurring. Is it in smaller joints like your hands, fingers, wrists? Does it start in a smaller joint and progress to a larger joint? Is it more on one side as oppose to both sides? These are important things to be aware of because if your joint stiffness is due to arthritis, depending on where it is occurring, it could be osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. These require different treatment plans. Do you notice any warmth of redness in the area? This is usually due to inflammation and things like ice and anti-inflammatories will help this symptom. If the warmth and redness occurs pretty frequently, that’s definitely something you should speak to a medical professional about.

What can you do or notice during the day that would give you the idea that maybe you have some joint stiffness?

  1. Are you feeling tight in general; does it take time to get moving in the morning?
  2. Do you have increased difficulty with normal activities like getting out of bed, taking stairs, sitting and standing etc.?
  3. Is the stiffness in one joint or in multiple joints?
  4. When and where is any redness or swelling happening?
  5. How long does the stiffness last?

Physical therapy is an effective treatment method for joint stiffness. At Loudoun Sports Therapy Center, we can determine the root cause of your joint stiffness and design an individualized plan of care to handle that cause. Our therapists will give you exercises and stretches tailored to improving your strength and range of motion. The biggest aspect of what we do at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center to address joint stiffness is manual, hands-on treatment. Depending on your needs, this might involve some massage, modalities such as ice and or heat, moving the joint in a specific way that increases specific motion and also oft tissue work on some of the muscles because sometimes, even though the joint is stiff, your muscles around the joint need a little work and we need to address that as well.

Another major component of every plan of care at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center is the education that you receive when you see a physical therapist. We spend a lot of time with you going over the root causes of your joint stiffness. We will describe what the anatomy is doing in a way that makes sense to you so you truly understand your problem.

If you’re dealing with joint stiffness or having trouble determining if you stiffness is something you need to worry about, call our office TODAY and speak with one of our therapists about the best course of action. Call 703-450-4300. 

For information on basic stretches that can help with some general joint stiffness, CLICK HERE.